Biological ‘robots’ will blow your mind!
Published: 26 June 2012 (GMT+10)
Stand and deliver
Kinesin molecules are motor proteins found inside living things. Known as the ‘workhorse of the cell’, they haul vital cargo along roadways in cells called microtubules. Steven Block (professor of applied physics and of biological sciences at Stanford University) has described kinesin this way; "Kinesin functions like a locomotive in cells to ferry cargo back and forth.”1
Illustration by Caleb Salisbury
A typical kinesin molecule is a mere 70 billionths of a metre (three-millionths of an inch) long and has an amazing likeness to a person! A typical kinesin has two ‘arms’ on one end (that hold onto the cargo) and two ‘legs’ on the other end that walk along the microtubule, pulling the cargo toward its final destination. In a sense they are like the ‘postman’ delivering mail inside cells.
Inside all life forms that have nuclei in their cells (eukaryotes), proteins and other parts need to be delivered to specific places within the cell at specific times. If the needed part is a protein, a manufacturing plant (called the ribosome) receives blueprints for the part from the nucleus (the information is stored in the nucleus on a strand of DNA, but the blueprint is sent in the form of an RNA copy of that section of DNA).
This is a complex coordinated effort, as something must first access the creature’s DNA library, unzip it at the exact location needed for the specific information required (for whatever part is to be manufactured), create a duplicate of the information for the part and deliver it to the factory. (See animation, below left.)
Then another organelle in the cell (called the Golgi apparatus) packages the needed part by wrapping it in a bag (called a vesicle) and imprints the ‘address’ where the part is to be delivered in the cell onto the outside of the vesicle ‘parcel’.
Then a kinesin is summoned. It picks up the parcel and ‘walks’ along microtubule roadways in the cell and delivers the parcel where it is needed. (Many different types of kinesin [and kinesin-related proteins] with different specifications and functions have been discovered in various organisms from yeast to humans. The above example was simply an example of a ‘common’ task.)
A view from above
Kinesin is the miniscule longshoreman (stevedore) of the cell, toting parcels of
cargo on its shoulders as it steps along a scaffolding of microtubules. Each molecule
of ATP fuel that kinesin encounters triggers precisely one 8-nanometer step of the
To grasp the complexity of what scientists are observing kinesin do, we could use the following hypothetical scenario as an analogy from a more familiar point of view:
Joe is working at his job one day when his machine breaks down. He identifies the broken part and makes a call from his cell phone to a local manufacturer requesting a new one, giving them the part number.
The manufacturer agrees and records Joe’s address. The manufacturer has a list of all the part numbers on hand but not the schematic for them so they send an email to another company (that has a copy of all of the blueprints for every part needed in the industry) requesting the blueprint. A person there makes a photocopy of the needed section and delivers it to the manufacturer.
From the instructions in the blueprints, the factory then manufactures the part and puts it in a package marked with the postal address from its database.
A courier is contacted. He comes to the factory and picks up the package. Having detailed maps of the city, the courier plots out and travels along the most convenient route and delivers the package. Mission accomplished!
Most would agree that the level of complexity just described is pretty impressive. The technology and integrated components (such as the specialized knowledge, communications systems, manufacturing capability, and databases) needed for such intricate procedures are incredibly sophisticated, and all of these steps were coordinated by intelligent people at every stage. However, the actual processes involving kinesin are far more complicated than what ‘Joe’ experienced above.
All in a day’s work
As astounding as this is, research is showing that kinesins do far more than initially thought. Kinesins are now known to support mitosis (cell division) and meiosis (cell division in which a nucleus divides into four daughter nuclei to make reproductive cells). In addition to transport of ‘mundane’ cellular cargo, kinesins transport the neurotransmitters needed for neurons to communicate with one another.
Certain kinesins can dismantle the microtubules after their journey. Controlling the length of microtubules is particularly important during cell division2—lack of control can cause chromosomal instability, which is in turn linked to human cancer.3
Professor Matthias Rief (from the Physics Department of the Munich University of Technology) says, “Our results show that a molecular motor must take on a large number of functions over and above simple transport, if it wants to operate successfully in a cell. It must be possible to switch the motor on and off, and it must be able to accept a load needed at a specific location and hand it over at the destination.”4
Fast and efficient
Not only do these incredible kinesin robots perform a variety of tasks, they also do so with incredible efficiency! Check out these ‘state of the art’ features:
Power—“Not only is it tiny, but kinesin’s motor is about 50 percent efficient, which is about twice as good as a gasoline engine. And pound for pound, kinesin produces nearly 15 times more power than that man-made engine.”5
Speed—The kinesin motor is impressively fast, capable of 100 steps per second. “Scaled up to our own dimensions, a motor with corresponding properties would travel at similar speeds and produce as much horsepower per unit weight as the jet engines of the Thrust supersonic car6, which recently broke the sound barrier.”7 (This would be proportional to a person moving 600 meters per second or 1,300 miles per hour!)
Energy efficient—Kinesins are powered by the universal energy compound known as ATP (which is produced by another incredible molecular motor called ATP synthase—see animation, below right. Each molecule of ATP “fuel” that kinesin encounters triggers precisely one 8-nanometer step of the ‘postman’, but kinesins go into ‘sleep mode’ when cargo isn’t attached to prevent ATP from being wasted. Similar to how modern computers shut down after a period of un-use to conserve energy, kinesin have a hibernation feature as well. (Although scientists know that the motor folds over in an “autoinhibited” 8 state when resting, the molecular mechanism remains unclear.)
Team players—Kinesin molecules also work together when the going gets tough! If the load needing transport is too heavy for one ‘postman’ to handle, there is “ … significant evidence that cargoes in-vivo are transported by multiple motors.”9
They also demonstrate ‘multiple handling’ of their cargo. Similar to runners in a relay race, kinesins can ‘hand off’ their cargo to a ‘fresh’ bystander after delivering it a certain distance, and the other kinesin will finish the delivery process.
Flexible planning—Kinesins also have a ‘bypass mode’ ability that allows them to navigate around obstructions they may encounter. Similar to a GPS system ‘re-computing’, kinesins have demonstrated the remarkable ability to re-route automatically when needed.
Recycling—The most ardent champion of the ‘green’ movement would be jealous of the kinesin’s conservation and recycling capability. There is good evidence they are either transported back to the cell center in groups by large transport units (like mass transit in cities) or alternatively dismantled and their parts recycled when done their tasks.10
Committed to naturalism
Of course such incredibly sophisticated bio-technology screams “Design”, but does God get the glory in the scientific literature describing these amazing machines and processes? No, ‘nature’ does:
“It is impressive how nature (emphasis mine) manages to combine all of these functions in one molecule. In this respect it is still far superior to all the efforts of modern nanotechnology and serves as a great example to us all.” 11
Why is it that at a time when science is revealing such telling evidence of God’s handiwork that intelligent people can see the evidence and deny the Creator? It’s because of the atheistic, evolutionary indoctrination that most people in the Western world receive, of course. Atheism is committed to naturalism, and so as Dr Scott Todd (an immunologist at Kansas State University) said: “Even if all the data point to an intelligent designer, such an hypothesis is excluded from science because it is not naturalistic”. (This would have been surprising news to the many great God fearing scientists of the past such as Sir Isaac Newton and Louis Pasteur).
Of course, according to evolutionary theory, eukaryote cells supposedly evolved well over two billion years ago12. This means evolutionists are willing to believe that such astoundingly sophisticated technology like molecular motors and their operating systems arose through natural processes (with no intelligence) very early on their imaginary timeline. But this is technology far superior to anything the most intelligent scientific minds on the planet have ever produced!
Is ‘evolution’ the answer to our beginnings?
“Motion at the cellular level is a hallmark of being alive,” Block has said. “A fundamental question is, how did living organisms figure out how to move? The answer is they developed kinesin and several other very efficient protein motors. If kinesin were to fail altogether, you wouldn’t even make it to the embryo stage, because your cells wouldn’t survive. It’s that important.” 13
Evolutionists have no plausible theory on how something as sophisticated as kinesin (and the required operating and communication systems) could have evolved in a gradual fashion (let alone all of the countless other functions and features we know of in so called ‘simple’ living things).
However, when we see similar machines and operating systems (robots, computers, the Internet, etc.) in our everyday life at work or home they are always the result of intelligent and intentional design. How much more logical to believe that the ultimate mind we are able to conceive (the Creator God of the Bible) created all of the marvelous machinery within us and the world around us!
How DNA is transcribed into mRNA with RNA polymerase, then translated into a protein in the ribosome with tRNA ‘adaptor’ molecules. This protein is then escorted by chaperones into a chaperonin so it folds correctly. All this machinery is itself encoded in the DNA, but the DNA can’t be read without this decoding machinery—a vicious circle, or chicken-and-egg problem. Furthermore, most of these processes use energy, supplied by ATP, produced by the motor ATP synthase (right). But the ATP synthase motor can’t be produced without instructions in the DNA, read by decoding machinery using ATP… a three-way circle, or perhaps an egg-nymph-grasshopper problem.
The 20-nanometer motor (height), ATP synthase (one nanometer is one thousand-millionth of a metre). These rotary motors in the membranes of mitochondria (the cell’s power houses) turn in response to proton flow (a positive electric current). Rotation of the motor converts ADP molecules plus phosphate into the cell’s fuel, ATP.
- Charles L. Asbury, Adrian N. Fehr, Steven M. Block, Kinesin Moves by an Asymmetric Hand-Over-Hand Mechanism, Stanford News Service, 12/5/03; http://news.stanford.edu/pr/03/kinesinproof1210.html. Return to text.
- Carsten Peters, Katjuša Brejc, Lisa Belmont, Andrew J Bodey, Yan Lee, Ming Yu, Jun Guo, Roman Sakowicz, James Hartman and Carolyn A Moores, Insight into the molecular mechanism of the multitasking kinesin-8 motor, Nature.com, The EMBO Journal (2010) 29, Published online: 3 September 2010; http://www.nature.com/emboj/journal/v29/n20/full/emboj2010220a.html#B27#B27. Return to text.
- Reference 2. Return to text.
- Motor Molecules Use Random Walks To Make Deliveries In Living Cells, ScienceDaily, July 21, 2009; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100521191233.htm. Return to text.
- Karl Leif Bates, Molecular Motors-Nature uses tiny nano-machines that could work miracles if we learn how to build them, Michigan Today, 2004; http://michigantoday.umich.edu/04/Fall04/story.html?molecular. Return to text.
- Thrust SSC holds the World Land Speed Record, set on 15 October 1997, when it achieved a speed of 1,228 km/h (763 mph) and became the first car to officially break the sound barrier. Return to text.
- Block, S.M., Kinesin: What Gives? Cell 93:5–8, 1998; http://www.stanford.edu/group/blocklab/Block-Cell Review.pdf. Return to text.
- Hung Yi Kristal Kaan, David D. Hackney, Frank Kozielski, The Structure of the Kinesin-1 Motor-Tail Complex Reveals the Mechanism of Autoinhibition, Science 333(6044):883–885, 2011; http://www.sciencemag.org/content/333/6044/883.abstract?sid=2d228367-9b77-4148-baad-1c876ee0924f. Return to text.
- Erickson RP, Jia Z, Gross SP, Yu CC, The National Center for Biotechnology Information, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of California, Irvine, California, USA, May 2011; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21573204. Return to text.
- Braulio Gutierrez-Medina, Bason Clancy, Nick Guydosh, Johan Andreasson, Kinesin: an ATPase that steps along microtubules; http://www.stanford.edu/group/blocklab/kinesin/kinesin.html. Return to text.
- Reference 5. Return to text.
- Michael Marshall, Timeline: The evolution of life, New Scientist-Life, 14 July 2009; http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn17453-timeline-the-evolution-of-life.html. Return to text.
- Reference 1. Return to text.
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Very impressive and well organised article. Expert evolutionists would have an impossible task trying to refute any part of the article. I love to see them try just to watch them stumble, and possibly some admit defeat.
I found this article most interesting, as I had never heard of Kinesin.
Cards on table (as I usually do when writing to CMI) I am a Christian who accepts evolution (Prof. Sarfati would not accept that such a thing is possible).
I have a sense of wonderment too because research that scientists (christian or otherwise—eg Prof. Abdus Salam)do and have done for hundreds of years is slowly revealing just how God works, his wonders to perform. Even if we only ever scratch the surface we will never fail to be amazed at life’s complexity.
Where we guys differ I guess is that to me it is the same to accept the complexity of His Creation and the enormous length of time that has gone into it. I don’t have to treat the Bible as literal. It makes me free to soar in the Universe He made for us.
Hi Jeff, thanks for writing in.
Of course CMI understands that there are true Christian believers that have come to different positions on Genesis than that of the biblical creationists’ such as those at CMI. We would of course argue that Christians that do so like yourself aren’t being consistent with their interpretation of scripture etc. Dr Sarfati has said as much himself, showing that you have misrepresented him:
One can be an evolutionist and still be a Christian, but the two are logically incompatible. I.e. theistic evolution is both scientifically and biblically untenable. But many people are saved due to ‘blessed inconsistency’—there is no hint in the Bible that the ability to hold mutually contrary thoughts in the same skull is an unforgivable sin.
You are of course correct in saying that observable science is continuing to show many intricate marvels of God’s creation, but that is not the same as saying science shows the origin of God’s creation. The facts we see before us can be interpreted according to evolutionary views or creationist views etc.
However, as I pointed out in my article, the sophistication of the systems involved in something like the operations of kinesin are extremely difficult to explain in an evolutionary (unguided) way as the irreducible factors involved scream intelligent design.
As for not ‘having to treat the Bible literally’, actually you do have to do so in some areas in order to be a true Christian. The literal interpretation (we would not hold to wooden literal-ism but rather the plain reading of scripture [I.e. the literal, historical-grammatical method])of Christ's birth, death and resurrection are non-negotiable to be saved (a Christian). All three of these plus the miracles Jesus performed are of course in direct conflict with what a secular scientist would believe based on what they have observed. Of course the Christian accepts them on faith, not observable fact.
This clearly shows how theistic evolutionists are inconsistent with their interpretation of scripture. In one area, secular scientific opinion is ignored while in another area secular scientific opinion is used to reinterpret the plain reading of the text. This is called blessed inconsistency, as explained abo. The person is still saved if they hold to the fundamentals of the faith, but may have a difficult time explaining their rather arbitrary position to an informed skeptic.
On the other hand, there are things atheists have to believe as well. All atheists have to believe in evolution, millions of years and that you cannot take the Bible as plainly written (see What all atheists have to believe).
Theistic evolutionists hold to all three of these. So theistic evolutionists hold to the fundamental beliefs all atheists hold to while simultaneously professing belief in Christ and His teachings which are in direct conflict.
Many that have held to this position at one time have felt free to ‘soar’ with various beliefs and have become consistent on the opposite side of Christianity.
In fact, they have become consistent in the belief that if secular interpretations of science should guide our beliefs about the past then the Bible should be discarded entirely because it contains many things that contradict (talking donkeys, men surviving in whales for three days, floating axe-heads, walking on water etc).
I trust that you will cling to the fundamental truths that God has revealed in a literal fashion in His word, regardless of your position on Genesis and the areas in scripture that are affected by those beliefs.
Blessings to you,
What an awesome article! Thank you! My heart is filled with awe and wonder! I once read the question asked in a CMI article somethng in the line of, "Why spend billions searching for signs of intelligent life in the universe when we need only look at a cell? There we see the intelligence of the Only One worth finding. Our Creator and Saviour Lord Jesus Christ. Amen!
Human-designs are clearly inferior to the design in nature, and yet you NEED a human mind to solve wheelspin in cars. So to solve wheelspin, people came up with the differential.
If a far simpler problem such as wheelspin REQUIRES by necessity, a designer, then it follows that far superior designs require a superior designer. But evolutionists argue that despite these clear facts, that in fact you require no designer at all, not even an inferior one, so solve superior design problems.
To me, that is like saying that, "we need a professional footballer to score an easy goal, but to score a difficult goal, we would not need a professional footballer, which is a bad solution, but rather we would need a blind, legless dog."
It is, "mindless" BACKWARD reasoning. It is "opposite" reasoning, like saying, "we need to suck air out of a balloon in order to blow it up", OR, "we need a person who has failed their driving test 100 times, to drive our formula one Grandprix car".
Think about it, the evolutionists actually tell us that God is an absurd falsehood, that clever thinking would not be a good solution to immense design-problems, but rather a thoughtless process, even though we know that "nature" could not even come up with one word in the sand, and never has. Are evolutionists telling us that they find it conceivable that the Mona Lisa painted itself? If they are honest, to believe this would be a consistent implication of their faith ad yet we know that they would not believe this. So I don't think they understand the magnitude of their own worldview, or it's logical implications.
I echo Terry's comments.
How simple it is when we just accept God's word! Of course, this is not our doing but the work of the Holy Spirit!
I had seen kinesin before in animations on youtube but i didnt know what it was and was like "look at those weird walking leg things, what are they?". Thanks for the well written and easy to understand article.
Like Jeff I appreciate your article for the factual information about kinesin biology. I'm currently convinced that evolution is true based on evidence. Your argument is mostly one of personal incredulity and/or 'evolution hasn't figured this out so how can it be true'.
Argument from personal incredulity is not very convincing however. Also, just because there are things (in fact there are a great number of things) that evolutionists haven't figured out yet doesn't mean it didn't happen. There is more than enough evidence in favor of evolution to conclude that it happened.
Hi Mark, thanks for writing in.
Although when I observe such amazing things such as kinesin etc I am truly amazed, my argument was not from personal incredulity or from the fact that 'evolution hasn't figured this out yet' (which assumes evolution is true and that it could figure it out).
My argument is not from what we DON'T know (God of the gaps) but from what we DO know. We do know in our experience that systems and functions as sophisticated as kinesin etc always require deliberate programming and intelligent design (hence my analogy in the article).
The burden is on evolutionists to show that there is a way that such sophisticated programming and design could result from naturalistic processes. We have not experienced (observed) such systems resulting from naturalistic processes, so to believe that they have is to believe by faith, not empirical science ('evolution of the gaps').
As for the 'more than enough evidence' in support of evolution argument, I can say the same thing "There is more than enough evidence in support of creation" to conclude that it happened.
The fact is all of that 'evidence' is derived from the same facts that can be interpreted for creation or evolution. Which means we all have the same amount of facts and the battle is for which interpretation (evidence)of it is correct.
If anyone still believes that this vast complexity was produced by mindless mutations and blind natural selection they are brain dead. Just as the Bible states, "The fool says in his heart there is no God".
Evolution could never account for this. As natural selection has absolutely "no overall perspective" and "no predictive power". There is no possible way of natural selection ever knowing where anything and everything is evolving to, or even why, Meaning, evolution has no overall view of where it is going, or what is out there in the broader environment. And thus cannot possibly know or predict where things are heading or how to integrate everything into a fully integrated workable whole.
This lack of perspective and predictive power makes it impossible for Darwinian natural selection to ever assemble specific parts, for a specific purpose, combined in a specific way, as part of a specific biological assembly, which is superbly integrated as part of a specific system, which then combines with a breathtaking network of other biological systems and multiple sub systems, to produce a workable whole.
This whole then integrates with all other forms of life in a complex matrix of interdependent and co-dependent lifeforms, which part of a life sustaining environment, on a life supporting planet, in a life supporting Goldilocks location, with a suitable tide producing moon, and a life supporting G2 sun, within a life supportive Solar System, in a Goldilocks life supporting galactic location, within a universe of precisely balance sub-atomic particles and finely tuned cosmological constants, together with structure, coded patterns, symmetry, natural laws and mathematical regularity.
The wondrous work of a true cosmic artist.
The probability of this vast complexity and arrangement ever being assembled by "undirected" cosmic events, and "unguided" natural selection, would be equivalent to a "blind infant" designing and building the CERN particle accelerator.